The museum will close the downtown location May 19 and reopen as Hands On! Discovery Center on June 14 under the new name Hands On! Discovery Center. When it opens, Hands On! Discovery Center will be the first and only all-ages science museum in the region.
Executive Director Andy Marquart said that Hands On! has been looking for a new home since 1995 with no luck. A contract with East Tennessee State University allowed the museum to facilitate the move to the Gray Fossil Site and Natural History Museum, giving Hands On! more than 12,000 additional square feet of interactive space, with plans to grow.
While the new location will feature some old favorites, Marquart said, a lot of the exhibits will be brand new. He said the focus is on interactive exhibits with open-ended results that explorers of all ages can enjoy.
“There’s going to be a nice mix I think of old and new, and we want people to put their technology away when they walk through the door and experience this vibrant place that’s going to be a centerpiece for the region,” he said.
Hands On! has been managing operations at the Natural History Museum for more than a year. Further down the line, Marquart said plans are to add another building for the discovery center that would add 20,000 square feet and have room for 14 interactive exhibits.
The move is being bolstered by fundraising since the Washington County Commission turned down the museum’s request for funding earlier this year. Marquart said the fundraising so far is on track, and he and other officials are going to keep an eye on the first few months of opening to see what the community response is.
“This project is a really special project when it comes to the partnership between Hands On! and ETSU,” Marquart said. “I think it took a lot of forethought and out-of-the box thinking to make this work, and the partnership between ETSU and us has been remarkably positive. Everybody is really paddling in the same direction with this, it’s just a really special project to be a part of.”
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